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ON THE EDUCATION OF CHILDREN.
Prov. xxii. 6.
An Address to different Relations, &c.
-Train up a Child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
treating on this subject of education, I have all along endeavoured, according to my usual manner, to make my discourses as practical as I could. While I was describing, and recommending the way, and offering my advices, with regard to the manner of conducting children into it, most of what I said under those generals was an application to you. I have therefore left myself the less to do here; yet I was not willing to conclude my discourses on a subject, which it is probable I shall never so largely resume, without
Fourthly, A particular address to my hearers, according to your different relations, and characters in life.
This I promised as my fourth and last general, and I enter on it without farther preface; humbly begging, that God, who has so intimate an access to all our hearts, would enable me to speak in the most awakening and edifying manner; and that he would, by his blessed Spirit, apply it to your consciences, that it may be As a nail fastened in a sure place*; that hearing and knowing these things for yourselves, you may Hear and know them for your good+.
I would here particularly address myself,-first to parents,--then to children, and-in the last place, to those young persons who are grown up to years of maturity, but not yet fixed in families of their own.
I. Let me address my discourse to those of you that are parents; whether you have been negligent of the duties I have now been urging, or through grace, have been careful in the discharge of them.
1. To those who have been grossly negligent in this important
*Isa, xxii. 23.
Job v. 27. text and margin.
I have here one advantage not common to every subject; I mean, that the guilty will immediately know themselves. When we apply ourselves in general to unconverted sinners, ignorance of the nature of true religion, a neglect of conversing with your own souls, or the insinuating prejudices of self-love, may disguise the true state of the case, and teach people to speak peace to themselves, under the most awful denunciations of wrath and vengeance. But here, one would imagine, that the recollection of a few moments might be sufficient to determine the case; because the question relates to past fact, and that not merely to one particular action, but to a long train and succession of labours and attempts.
Now let your consciences witness, whether I am guilty of a breach of charity, when I take it for granted, that there are some amongst you, who have been, and are very negligent of the duty I have now been enforcing? You have probably contented yourselves with teaching your children to read, and setting them to learn, like parrots, a prayer, and perhaps too, a catechism and a creed. But I appeal to your consciences, have you from the very day of their birth to this time, ever spent one hour in seriously instructing them in the knowledge of God, and endeavouring to form them to his fear and service; in setting before them the misery of their natural condition, and urging them to apply to Christ for life and salvation; in representing the solemnities of death, and judgment, and the eternal world, and urging an immediate and diligent preparation for them? Where is the time, where the place, that can witness, that you have been pouring out your souls before God on their account, and wrestling with him for their lives, as knowing they must perish for ever, without the righteousness of his Son, and the grace of his Spirit? Where, or when, have you thus prayed with them, or for them? What sermon have you heard, what scripture have you read, with this thought, "This will I carry to my children, and communicate to them as the food of their souls?" I fear there are several of you that have been so far from doing it, that you have hardly ever seriously thought of it as a thing to be done.
And I would ask, Why have you not thought of it, and why have you not done it? Are these creatures that you have produced, like the other animals of your houses or your field, mere animated systems of flesh and blood, made to take a turn in life for a few days and months, and then to sink into everlasting forgetfulness? Or are they rational and immortal creatures, that must exist for ever in heaven or in hell? This is not a matter of
doubt with you; and yet you behave, as if the very contrary to what you believe were evident certain truth. In short, it is the most barbarous part you act, and more like that of an enemy than a parent.
It is not that you are insensible of the workings of parental tenderness. No, far from that, it may perhaps sometimes rise to a weak and criminal dotage; yet I repeat it again, you are acting a hostile and barbarous part. You are greatly solicitous for their temporal happiness. For this you labour and watch; for this you deny yourselves many an enjoyment, and subject yourselves to many an uneasy circumstance: But, alas! Sirs, where is the real friendship of all this, while the precious soul is neglected? Your children are born with a corrupted nature, perverted by sinful examples, ignorant of God, in a state of growing enmity to him, and, in consequence of all, exposed to his wrath and curse, and in the way to everlasting ruin: In the mean time it is your great care, that they may pass through this precarious, momentary life, in ease and pleasure, perhaps in abundance and grandeur; that is, in such circumstances, as will probably lull them into a forgetfulness of their danger, till there be no more hope. How cruel a kindness!
It brings to my mind the account which an ancient writer* gives of the old Carthaginians, which I can never recollect without great emotion. He is speaking of that diabolical custom which so long prevailed amongst them, of offering their children to a detestable idol, which was formed in such a manner, that an infant put into its hands, which were stretched out to receive it, would immediately fall into a gulph of firet. He adds a circumstance, which one cannot mention without horror; that the mothers, who with their own hands presented the little innocents, thought it an unfortunate omen that the victim should be offered weeping; and therefore used a great many fond artifices to divert it, that soothed by the kisses and caresses of a parent, it might smile in the dreadful moment in which it was to be given up to the idol§. Pardon me, my friends; such is your parental care and love; such your concern for the present ease and prosperity of your children, while their souls are neglected: A fond solicitude, that they may pass smiling into the hands of the destroyer.
+ Diodor. Sic. lib. xx. cap. 14. Euseb. Præp. Evang. lib. iv. cap. 7.
Blanditiis & Osculis comprimente Vagitum, ne flebilis Hostia immoletur, Minut. Fel. Octav. §.50. page 57. Tertull. Apol. cap. ix.
You know with what just severity God reckons with the Israelites for their abominable wickedness, in Taking his sons and his daughters, for so he calls the children of his professing people, and sacrificing them to be devoured*: And can you suppose, he will take no notice of the unnatural neglect of yours? Not to endeavour to save, is to destroy; and is it a little guilt, when an immortal soul is in question? You probably remember those terrible words in Ezekiel; (may they be deeply inscribed on the hearts of all whom they concern!) Son of man, I have made thee a watchman to the house of Israel, therefore hear thou the word from my mouth, and give them warning from me ;-and if thou speakest not to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thine hand. If ever you read this passage with attention, you must own it is exceedingly awful, and must be ready to say, "The Lord be merciful to ministers! They have a solemn account to give." Indeed they have; and we thank you, if you ever bestow a compassionate thought and prayer upon us. But permit me to remind you, that though it be our case, it is not ours alone; you have likewise your share in it. Your children are much more immediately committed to your care, than you and they are committed to ours; and, by all parity of reason if they perish in their iniquities, while you neglect to give them warning, their blood will be required at your hand.
And when God comes to make inquisition for that blood, how will you be able to endure it? That awful day will open upon you, and the tribunal of God, in all its terrors, will stand unveiled before you. Give me leave to direct your eyes to it in this distant prospect, while there is yet room to mitigate those terrors. If you go on in this cruel negligence of the souls of your children, how will you dare to meet them at that judgment-seat? How will you be able to answer the great Father of spirits, when expostulating with you on account of his offspring, as well as yours, who have been betrayed and ruined by your neglect "Inhuman creatures," may he justly say, "to whom should I have committed the care of them, rather than to you? Did they not, by my appointment, derive their being from you? Did I not implant in your hearts the natural affections of parents towards them? And to increase the obligation, did they not pass through the tender scenes of infancy and childhood in your arms, and under your eye? If you had
no compassion for their perishing souls, if you would exert no efforts for their deliverance and salvation, from whom could those compassions, those efforts have been expected? But wherein did they appear? Behold the book of my remembrance, the records of thy life, thrown open before thee! Where is the memorial of one hour spent in holy instruction, or in fervent prayer with them, or for them? Can I approve, can I acquit you on such a review? Or shall I not rather visit for these things, and shall not my soul be avenged for such a conduct as this?"
And your children,—will they be silent on the occasion? Did Adam in the distress and amazement of his soul, when in the presence of his judge, accuse Eve, his wife, so lately taken from his side, and committed to his protection, and still, no doubt, appearing lovely in the midst of sorrow? And will your children in that terrible day spare you? You may rather expect, they will labour to the utmost to aggravate a crime which costs them so dear, that so they may, if possible, alleviate their own guilt, or if not, indulge their revenge. "O God," may they perhaps then cry out in the most piercing accents of indignation and despair, "thou art righteous in the sentence thou passest upon us, and we justly die for our own iniquity. We have destroyed ourselves. But wilt thou not remember that our ruin is in part chargeable here? Had these our parents been faithful to thee, and to us, it had perhaps been prevented. Had our infancy been formed by religious instruction, we might not have grown up to wickedness; we might not in the advance of life, have despised thy word, and trampled on thy Son; but might this day have been owned by thee as thy children, and have risen to that inheritance of light and glory, which we now behold at this unapproachable distance. Oh! cursed be the fathers that begat us; cursed the womb that bare us; cursed the paps that gave us suck! Remember us, O Lord, whilst thou art judging them; and let us have this one wretched comfort, in the midst of ali our agonies, that it is not with impunity that they have betrayed our souls!"
This is indeed shocking and diabolical language; and for that very reason, it is so much the more probable on so dreadful an occasion. And give me leave to ask you one question, my friends, and I will conclude this head. If your children were thus crying out against you in the bitterness of their souls, could you attempt to silence them, by reminding them of the care which you took of their temporal affairs, or of the riches